Let’s be honest, it’s not the most tantalising of titles is it? Whether your political allegiance means you dress to the left or the right, an evening spent in the company of someone pretending to be the charisma-free zone that is the former Prime Minister is hardly something to get the juices flowing. A Scot so dour that even dour Scots have probably told him to lighten up.
Kevin Toolis’ play arrives at the Ambassadors Theatre following successful runs at last year’s Edinburgh Festival and the Trafalgar Studios and purports to lift the lid on the secrets of Brown’s political career — judged even by many on his own side to be something of a failure, or at least his time as PM.
But whether this is meant to be a comedy (it’s billed as a satire) or a tragedy isn’t really clear. There are one or two amusing moments when Brown has a pop at the image obsessed media by claiming that “baldies” like William Hague and Ian Duncan Smith failed to engage the electorate because of their lack of locks, and an entertaining bit when he challenges the audience to name members of Blair’s cabinet, but beyond that the laughs are decidedly thin on the ground — and if taking the piss out of someone’s height or hair is now considered satire then Peter Cook must be turning in his grave.
And where are the confessions? I wasn’t expecting revelations about coke-fuelled parties with reality TV stars, but being told that meeting foreign dignitaries is a bit of a chore or that as PM he never carried money isn’t the stuff of tabloid headlines.
Mostly this is a c-word, f-word loaded rant about how Brown was shafted by Blair and his cronies — we knew that, right? — and it soon becomes tiresome in the extreme.
Ian Grieve captures the physicality of Brown without giving us a full-on impersonation, so thankfully we’re not subjected to that blood-curdling smile or that bizarre sucky-in thing he does with his bottom lip. The problem here though is that Grieve has more presence that Brown could even dream of and thereby rather swamps his subject so we don’t feel GB’s pain or get touched by the pathos.
There is a school of thought that says Brown was a man of integrity and intelligence who was denied his place in history by the ruthless ambition of people who purported to be his comrades. That might well be a sound analysis, but if he didn’t realise that’s how things were done in the Westminster bear pit, then he must go down as a man of extreme naivety as well.
But frankly, Kevin Toolis’ play made me care less.
Reviewed by Tony Peters
The Confessions of Gordon Brown is playing at the Ambassadors Theatre until 30 July 2014. Click here for tickets.